Wednesday, October 14, 2009

No Stretchy Pants, but This is for Fun

Here's my entry in's Significant Object contest. Yeah, it's not very good, but at least I tried.

Dad likes to play John Phillip Sousa’s “Washington Post March,” imaging how incensed Richard Nixon would be hearing the tune. Some nights he sits in the dark of the living room, his pharmacy reading glasses folded atop the stack of World War II books on the table, listening to the music. Mom sat there in the dark, too, quietly directing Sousa’s band with her freckled fingers.

Other nights, with the television tuned to public broadcasting, Dad, hair silver, walking stick leaning against the bookshelf, laughs at “the old guys” in Last of the Summer Wine. Wants to visit England to see the greenery, to share eastern wisdom with Mr. Entwhistle. Dad comes from a village near Amsterdam, further east than Hull.

Sometimes he looks out the window and recounts the dream of cutting a hole in the window of the house across the street to steal a piece of wedding cake. “Varlene sat at the table and slapped my hand as I reached in,” Dad said. He laughs silently, tears pouring down his cheeks.

Shelves in the living room are filled with knick-knacks. The ship bell bought at a flea market in Alkmaar; the bell no one rings because it’s brassy and loud. The trumpet from Enkhuizen that only his trombone-playing son can get a note out of. The glass bottle bought in Hayward, California; the one we tease him about, saying it’s a bong.

Dad haunts the antique stores and flea markets, intent on finding riches. Mom haunts the thrift stores and brings home tattered copies of the books she used to read to her children.

More relics outside, ghosts of relics. A 1948 Ford truck, green paint with orange hubs. A 1947 Willys jeep, army green. Buckets of bolts, bits of ironmongery. Stacks of cinder blocks, piles of wood. In the shed, a pile of coal, next to a small stack of firewood. In front, at least half a ton of landscape rock hauled out of the mountains. We joke Dad’s idea of increasing property value is increasing its weight.

With a shaving brush dipped into a pot of soap – a barbecue-sauce urn and brush rescued from the thrift store – Mom lathers Dad’s face. She shaves him, careful to avoid cuts, as the Coumadin in his blood makes it thin. His skin is a yellowed parchment, peppered with tiny hemorrhages.

At the hospital, Dad wants a Heineken. He hasn’t had a beer in thirty-six years. He gets one and sips it. “It doesn’t taste as good as I thought it would,” he said. He asks for the nearly-full bottle to be hidden.
He dreamed once he was walking with God, and God showed him a green field filled with trucks, cars, planes, tractors, tanks. “Jakob,” God said, “all these need to be fixed. They’re all yours.” Heaven is diesel fumes, greasy rags, a Creeper rolling in green grass.

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